Downtown: Public Square and the Mall

Tour curated by: The Cleveland Historical Team

This tour features 14 historic sites in or near Downtown Cleveland's Public Square and Mall. Many of the sites in this tour explore Cleveland's two-century struggle to find a city center that speaks most meaningfully to its identity.

Public Square, surveyed and laid out by New Englander Moses Cleaveland in 1796, is the traditional center of Downtown Cleveland. Edifices like Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Old Stone Church are nineteenth-century testaments to the Square as city center. The Mall, designed in the first decade of the twentieth century during the mayoral administration of noted Progressive Tom L. Johnson, competed with Public Square for the title of city center. The Daniel Burnham-designed Group Plan, an expression of the national "City Beautiful Movement," surrounded the Mall with civic buildings such as the Cleveland City Hall, Cuyahoga County Courthouse, and Cleveland Public Library. The construction of the Terminal Tower and the relocation of Higbee's Department Store to Public Square in the 1930s marked a resurgence of the Square as city center.

In 1990, Key Tower surpassed the Terminal Tower as Cleveland's tallest building but reinforced the importance of Public Square as a business hub. More recently, despite a redesign of the Mall and the opening of new hotels and exhibition venues on its flanks, the 2016 dedication of a completely redesigned Public Square has returned Cleveland's historic heart to a position of centrality. Both the Public Square and Mall renovations reflected decades of ideas but were catalyzed by Mayor Frank Jackson's embrace of a Group Plan Commission that drew inspiration from the age of Daniel Burnham and Tom Johnson.

Locations for Tour

In November of 1981, the Standard Oil Co. announced that it would build its new headquarters overlooking Cleveland's Public Square. The timing could not have been better. The City of Cleveland was troubled financially, the population was…

Downtown Cleveland at the turn of the twentieth century was a crowded and noisy place. Specialized, multi-level passageways lined with shops - known as arcades - were built in order for people to escape the clamor of the streets, as well as the often…

The Cleveland Public Library comprises one of the largest collections in the United States: nearly ten million items. The Library’s two buildings on Superior Avenue (the main structure, 1925) and the Stokes Wing (1997) command an entire city block…

The Group Plan of 1903 was an ambitious city-planning scheme that—as much as any single initiative—shaped downtown Cleveland. The Plan’s six public buildings are the Federal Building (1910, now the Howard Metzenbaum US Courthouse), the Cuyahoga…

When the city approved the Group Plan of 1903, it was believed that the Mall would become the city’s functional and symbolic center. The long stretch of land northeast of Public Square would turn a former slum into a parklike space, and a…

In the 1920s Cleveland's Public Auditorium was among the largest and most popular meeting venues in the United States. By the end of the 20th century, Cleveland and Public Auditorium were fighting tooth and nail for second-tier convention…

On July 3, 1916, Cleveland city councilmen convened for their weekly meeting. But this was no ordinary get-together. Instead, it was the legislators’ inaugural gathering in Cleveland’s glamorous new city hall at 601 Lakeside Avenue—the very…

On October 30, 1990, Cleveland’s skyline became the backdrop for a symbolic transfer of power and prestige: The frame of Society Corporation's new headquarters surpassed the Terminal Tower in height. Cleveland was now looking forward instead…

First Presbyterian Church, commonly referred to as the Old Stone Church, is located on the northwest quadrant of Cleveland's Public Square at the corner of Ontario and Rockwell Streets. Possibly Cleveland's best-known religious building,…

Born into a wealthy family in 1854, Tom L. Johnson did not originally have political intentions or aspirations. Instead, he started off as an inventor and street railway magnate with holdings in companies in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Missouri,…

Laid out by Moses Cleaveland's surveying party in 1796 in the tradition of the New England village green, Public Square marked the center of the Connecticut Land Company's plan for Cleveland and, soon, a ceremonial space for the growing…

Formally dedicated in 1930 following over four years of extensive demolition, excavation, and construction, the Cleveland Union Terminal centralized the city's passenger rail service and gave Cleveland a signature landmark, the 52-story,…

The new May Company department store opened on Public Square in 1915. Containing over 800,000 square feet of floor space, it was said to be the third largest store in the nation. Built by world-famous architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (who…

Amid the busy streets of downtown Cleveland stands the Soldiers and Sailors' Monument, built to honor the 10,000 Cuyahoga county residents who fought in the Civil War. Almost fifteen years after Major William J. Gleason first suggested the idea…
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